This column will list four picks per week: match of the week, favourite, underdog and wild card, i.e. everything (another favorite or underdog in a match that may be flying under the radar or overall, e.g. an instance). We hope that we will all be in good shape before the clock strikes zero for the national championship game on January 8 in Houston.
All spreads have been taken Wednesday from DraftKings Sportsbook unless noted. All time Eastern.
Jenkins: Texas A&M football will pay any price, but you can’t buy victory
No. 5 Washington at No. 11 Oregon State
Selection: Over 63½ points
This has the makings of another Pac-12 shootout, thanks to two pretty good offenses and two defenses that have looked shaky at times.
Let’s start with the fact that neither team stands out in attack. Washington is ranked 91st in Pro Football Focus, and the Huskies’ deficiencies were highlighted in their win over Utah last weekend. The Utes scored a 53-yard touchdown on a screen pass and gained another 41-yard lead on a missed tackle by cornerback Elijah Jackson. Oregon State has the worst PFF academic grade of any Power Five program, ranking better than Connecticut’s just 1-9 among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Then there’s the issue of Washington’s rushing defense, which allows 4.37 yards per carry (84th in the country) and 48.2% of the opponent’s success rate (127). Oregon State’s running game ranks second in success rate (52.8 percent) and ninth in yards per carry (5.39 yards).
Led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies have scored at least 35 points in all but two games, including last weekend against a top-20 Utah defense. Washington ranks third in offensive efficiency and Oregon State is fourth, and while neither operates at a particularly high rate, both offenses are effective enough to score points against likely defenses. The end is art.
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At 4-6, TCU returned to Earth after last year’s Cinderella trip to the College Football Playoff championship game. In 2022, the Horned Frogs are 6-1 in single-point games. They have a record of 0-4 this season. One of their other losses, 27-14 at Iowa State on Oct. 7, came after dual-threat quarterback Chandler Morris, who was ranked 10th in the nation in total offense, went down with an injury on beginning of the third quarter. He hasn’t played since, but even with backup Josh Hoover, TCU remained competitive: the last two losses to Texas Tech and Texas were by a combined 10 points, with the Horned Frogs projected to win after the game in both cases it exceeded 50 percent. A few lucky bounces and the Horned Frogs are 6-4 instead of 4-6.
Baylor is a three-win team that plays like a three-win team, although the Bears also had quarterback issues after Blake Shapen missed three games after suffering a knee injury in the opening loss to Texas. Shapen’s return made little difference; The Bears have beaten just two FBS teams by a total of four points. One win came after the Bears erased a 35-7 third-quarter deficit against Central Florida on October 1. They scored the second in a 32-29 win over Cincinnati on October 21, despite being outscored in yards per play.
The Bearcats averaged a season-best 6.7 yards per carry this game, and Baylor has one of the worst defenses in the country (115th in success rate, 123rd in expected points allowed per rush). Horned Frogs Emani Bailey is averaging 100.6 rushing yards per game, and there is a chance Morris returns from injury to add another facet to TCU’s ground attack. Even if he doesn’t, I think TCU will do whatever it takes to keep their bowl hopes alive.
North Carolina State at Virginia Tech
Pick: North Carolina State +2½
Put up a good defense against Virginia Tech and the Hokies tend to fight back.
Seven of Virginia Tech’s 10 opponents ranked 40th or worse in defensive SP+, a measure of opponent-adjusted efficiency, and the Hokies are 5-2 in those games, averaging 32 points. However, Virginia Tech’s three remaining opponents – Rutgers, Florida State and Louisville – rank at least 21st in defensive SP+, and the Hokies have lost all three by an average of 24 points and their offense has produced just two touchdowns.
North Carolina State ranks 16th in defensive SP+. He won three in a row, totaling just 29 points in those contests and seeing his Pro Football Focus defense improve in all three. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just five yards per pass attempt over this span, and have only one touchdown and six interceptions.
Virginia Tech generally doesn’t ask much from quarterback Kyron Drones, who has averaged just 22.8 pass attempts over the Hokies’ last six games. The Hokies prefer to run the ball, ranking 27th in rushing percentage (57), but once again a strong defense hampered Virginia Tech in that regard: The Hokies averaged 6.6 yards per carry in recent wins over Syracuse and Boston College, but only 2.4 yards in a loss to Louisville on November 4. The Wolfpack allow 3.32 yards per carry and the pick is NC State.
Rutgers at 12 Penn State
Prediction: Rutgers scored fewer than 10½ points overall
The Scarlet Knights have scored 16 points and just one touchdown in their last two games. They scored all 16 points against Ohio State on November 4, and the Buckeyes’ defense is actually quite good. However, two of those drives against Ohio State – both resulting in made field goals – started in Buckeyes territory thanks to turnovers on downs and interceptions. This past weekend, Iowa eliminated Rutgers and allowed the Scarlet Knights a season-worst 3.1 yards per play. Of Rutgers’ 10 passes that didn’t result in a knee, nine resulted in a punt. (The second one was doomed due to an interception.) Four of the ten drives ended in negative yardage.
Penn State’s defense is in the same league as Iowa’s defense: the Nittany Lions’ rankings fourth in SP+ defense, and the Hawkeyes are second. After last weekend’s loss to Michigan, the Nittany Lions made the Wolverines one-dimensional (quarterback JJ McCarthy threw for just 60 yards) and held them to a season-low 5.31 yards per game. Rutgers offense Already is one-dimensional: The Scarlet Knights rank 99th in pass efficiency and 110th in expected points added per pass, and they only pass the ball 39.3% of the time (124th in the country). And if Rutgers’ rushing attack can’t get going, things will go south quickly. Last week, Iowa held the Scarlet Knights to 34 net yards on 23 carries.
Rutgers averaged nine points against the four best defenses it faced (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa). The Nittany Lions will be saddened by their loss last weekend and I don’t think they’ll let the Scarlet Knights get on a roll.